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Pentecost 13B Sermon
John 6: 56-69
August 22, 2021

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John 6:56-69

56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.’ 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

In a recent conversation with a couple of neighborhood friends, one of them made a comment about the video we have seen from Afghanistan this week. Not only were people climbing to get into airplanes evacuating people out of Kabul, but some held on while the aircraft took off, falling to the ground as the planes gained altitude. He wondered what must have gotten into these people to think that they could hold on tight enough to an air intake vent on the outside of an airplane and not fall to their deaths. The whole situation is heartbreaking, and politics aside, we cannot help but feel compassion for those who will be left behind to either live under Taliban rule or die because of it in light of their relationship with the US forces that were there for twenty years. My only response to my friend was, “they must have been so desperate thinking about what life - or death - would be like that they felt they had no other choice.”

We Americans like to have choices. Many of us make dozens of decisions before noon every day! What to wear, what to have for breakfast, how fast to drive, should I respond to that text or wait until I arrive at my destination, what to buy at the grocery store, the list goes on and on. Many American Christians have adopted that mindset into their faith lives, making their relationship with God into one of choosing. Decision Theology, one where God will only love you if you accept Jesus as your savior, is widespread among our neighbors. You may even lean toward believing that deep down as well.

But Simon Peter makes it sound like the choice is already made, and it is out of our hands. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God!” God has made the decision to love us, to send Jesus as the Holy One, and to never abandon us even when we make choices that turn away from that gracious, merciful promise and gift. When I saw the people fall from airplanes leaving Kabul, I understood that that their decision was based on desperation - where else are we going to go? This is the only way to life that is not torturous and threatened with evil at every turn.

It might sound like a strange analogy, but it really hits the mark, I think. In John’s Gospel, those crowds of people who have been following Jesus, fed by him, witnessed all of those signs and miracles are thinking about what he has said. He is the bread of life; for eternal life it is necessary to eat his flesh and drink his blood. We assume that many took this literally and thought he was talking about cannibalism, much like Nicodemus thought Jesus wanted him to crawl back inside his mother’s womb in order to be “born again” or “born from above.” But even those who understood that this was a spiritual reference - that Jesus is God’s gift to all that God has chosen to love, and listening, believing and serving him is the way of abundant life and joy - they saw how this contradicted what they had been raised to believe. The religious leaders of the day had indoctrinated them into a way of life based on following the Torah, God’s law, in order to be loved by God. It sounds a lot like the option that those left to live under Taliban rule have, as they enact and enforce laws that ensure that some always remain second class citizens, namely women and those who do not follow their way of life to the letter, as they interpret it.

When these folks are choosing not to follow Jesus, they say that his teaching is difficult, impossible to accept. He asks them if it offends them. Literally he asks them, “does this cause you to stumble?” It is the Greek word, “skandalon” which is most widely translated as, “stumbling block.” Indeed, Paul calls the crucified Christ a stumbling block to Jews, because Jesus is not how they pictured the Messiah as they were taught he would be. Jesus doesn’t seem to be interested in accumulating wealth, building temples or palaces, or raising a military to defeat the enemies of God’s people. Rather he is bread to feed all who are spiritually and physically hungry. He will go on to tell them that he is the light of the world, the good shepherd and the gate for the sheep, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life and the true vine. He will continue to give of himself more and more so that others might experience the mercy of our gracious God. He will even die on a cross rather than calling an army of angels to rescue him. It is a stumbling block to folks who make choices in life based on how much wealth, pleasure or honor it will bring to them. The only way we can choose to follow and serve Jesus as our Lord is to remember that God first chose to love us, to give us the blessings that we need for joy-filled life, and to give us the gifts and talents that we have in order that others might also experience God’s love through us.

And it is a blessing and gift to know that God has done all of this for us … but it is also difficult to hear how our everyday choices should be shaped by that blessing and gift. As we make these everyday decisions on how we are to use our time, our energies, our money, or vote, our whole selves, God’s promise to be with us always and to always choose to bring life out of death is what encourages our lives to be faithful and loving toward God and toward our neighbors. Some of Jesus’ teachings are more difficult than others, but they all have to do with God’s love for all creation, and our call to be part of that love and salvation, the defeat of evil and resurrection of all in Jesus’ name.

We don’t know what will happen in Afghanistan over the next weeks, months or years; we don’t know what will happen in our country and world in light of the pandemic. We don’t even know if the choices that we make will create a better world for our children, our grandchildren or others. But we know that God has created us and all the world in order to love us and to encourage us to love each other. That is a grace-filled gift and promise that we can never leave behind. That is what encourages us to choose to serve God, just as Joshua did in our Old Testament reading. That is our goal as faithful Christian people every day of our lives as we join with Simon Peter in wondering, “where else are we going to go for abundant eternal life?” The answer is nowhere … but Jesus Christ, the living bread from heaven. Amen.